Early Music Department

Our New Name

Why Historical Performance Institute?

Dana Marsh, HPI Director

In recent months, a number of faithful friends of the HPI have expressed an interest in our change of name. Why change from “Early Music Institute” to “Historical Performance Institute”? Words are important when it comes to conveying definitions and meanings. These meanings can and do shift over time, so here follows our rationale.

As a performance discipline, Historical Performance (HP) has always moved forward via new discoveries and understandings in musical research. A century ago, the scholarship and performance communities tended to keep each other at a distance. Individuals from both groups who were interested in HP often had to collaborate outside of conventional professional circles. Over the past five decades, practitioners of HP – whether scholars, performers, or both – have brought the two pursuits together in a revelatory way. Globally, audiences now listen to Medieval, Renaissance and Baroque (not to mention Classical and Romantic) music with different ears than they did 40 years ago. Modern orchestras have over time felt obliged to adjust their interpretation of Baroque repertories. Historical Performance has caused a powerful transformation in musical culture worldwide.

As a scholarly activity, HP draws from a long continuum of overlapping research disciplines: the historiography of music, dance, and languages; the history of vocal and instrumental pedagogy, music theory, art, iconography, religion, and architecture; cultural and social history, philosophy, aesthetics, literary and textual criticism, paleography, the design and construction of historical instruments, etc. These disciplines variously combine to provide valuable insights through which today’s musician can devise a historically tenable basis for the interpretation of Early Music. As the surviving evidence will tend to give us only a fragmentary picture of the past, it is also our inevitable purpose as performers to move beyond the mere accidents of survival. A duly informed musician combines scholarly understanding with fresh skill, imagination, inspiration, and passion – to deliver a performance that present-day audiences find edifying, moving, and transformative.

Nearly a century after its beginnings, it could be said that "Early Music" refers to the founding group of interests and projects first taken up by a budding school of thought which we now call Historical Performance. Over the past five decades, “Early Music” has been used to describe an expanding chronology of repertory. A consequence of that explosive growth is that the word “Early” has lost a good deal of its specificity and descriptive force. Moreover, Early Music as a label has referred chiefly to an “end” in itself (repertory), rather than a “means to an end" (method/process). We affirm that our work in HP is a means to many ends in higher education – a multidisciplinary vehicle that joins scholarship and performance, with flexibility to operate within any musical period.

It is our aim to offer the perspective and discipline of Historical Performance directly to students at the Jacobs School of Music. Most path-breaking progress within the profession has taken place collaboratively outside the curriculum of higher education. In recent decades of course, generations of students have benefitted from the establishment of HP focused departments and programs. Given contemporary trends in new institutional configurations of arts and humanities research, it seems inevitable that in half a century the group of disciplines that have informed the work of HP thus far will coalesce in wholly new ways. We believe that our field has a great deal to offer towards that process.

Our change in name, then, does not alter the substance of our founding vision, but it does mark a critical step in charting a sustainable future for our work through the 21st century. We are not narrowing the scope of historical repertories included within our curriculum. Medieval, Renaissance and Baroque music will continue to be the life-blood of our institution. We are committed as ever to provide our students with access to the broadest possible range of study.

Our founder, Thomas Binkley, once expressed his hope that “Early Music as a frontier” would one day disappear, so that “just music” would remain.* We see this change in name – which is not at all new or without precedent – as marking for us a timely step in that direction.


*Review Article: Ross Duffin, "The End of Early Music: A Period Performer's History of Music for the Twenty-First Century by Bruce Haynes", Bach 40, i (Riemenschneider Bach Institute, 2009): 84.

© Indiana University Jacobs School of Music - Historical Performance Institute, 2014